Is the husband’s role parallel to that of God the Father, and the wife’s role parallel to that of God the Son?

(1 Corinthians 11:3) But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

Professor Wayne Grudem interprets 1 Corinthians 11:3 as follows:

just as the Father has authority over the Son in the Trinity, so the husband has authority over the wife in marriage. The husband’s role is parallel to that of God the Father and the wife’s role is parallel to that of God the Son.
— Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, chapter 14

Wayne Grudem is notorious for pushing the idea that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. That idea is commonly referred to as ESS — Eternal Subordination of the Son.

ESS is a fallacious doctrine which has compounded the entrapment of women who are abused by their husbands.

The ESS interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:3 gives the wife the role of being the self-sacrificing suffering servant under the headship of her husband. That means it contradicts Ephesians 5.

Brad Mason exposes how just fallacious and un-biblical the ESS interpretation is:

[The ESS reading of 1 Corinthian 11:3 is] that the suffering Servant role of Christ toward God is the role of the wife to her husband. On that fallacious reading, the wife’s co-equality is realized in her self-sacrificial servant role under the headship of her husband.

On the contrary, in Ephesians 5 we see the husband bearing the self-sacrificial role of loving service on behalf of his wife.

In the ESS analogical reading of 1 Corinthians 11, headship implies rule over the self-sacrificing servant wife; in Ephesians 5, where an actual and explicit analogy is present, headship implies self-sacrificing service on behalf of the wife.

Take home message

The husband’s headship means he ought to self-sacrificially serve his wife. Jesus the suffering Servant, who serves and builds up the church*, is the model for the husband sacrificially serving his wife.

*The church / the congregation / the people of God means all the people whom God has been, is and will be making one with and in Christ.


Articles by Brad Mason

Answering Four Common Laymen Objections to ESS Critics

“The head of Christ is God”: ESS, Complementarianism, and the History of Interpretation

For further reading

Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) Digest

6 thoughts on “Is the husband’s role parallel to that of God the Father, and the wife’s role parallel to that of God the Son?”

  1. From this vantage point of my mid-fifties, how differently I would have lived, and how different my choices had I known God the way I do now. I feel sorry for my younger self and all other women who tolerate abusive men because of what we were taught and the shame of divorce. This work is so important and I pray that all women who need it, get to read it.

  2. Thank you for this, Barbara. Until I read this I had not even paralleled the abuser I had been married to and the ESS doctrine, but in just this short write up I am floored. This is EXACTLY the organizational structure (hell) the abuser demanded directly and indirectly in our marriage. Any healthy, independent thought outside of this was a threat to his power and control and treated as insubordination….

    1. Hi ESS = hell,

      If you are interested in more information on the ESS (Eternal Subordination of the Son) doctrine, the link below takes you to the ACFJ ESS digest. The ESS digest lists the series of blog posts Barb did on this topic. I am also going to add a link to the ESS digest to the bottom of this post for other readers who might be interested in further information on this topic.

      Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) Digest

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